By Harry Donnell
The “Welcome to Night Vale” podcast has made listeners laugh, cry, and feel an overwhelming sense of existential dread since its release in June 2012.
Series creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor have made incredible efforts to expand their ideas, and this has manifested as transmedia content for the series. A novel of the same title has been published recently and the production team is currently touring the nation with a live show entitled “Ghost Stories.” The show now has its own production group called “Night Vale Presents,” which produces both the “Welcome to Night Vale” show and a new podcast called “Alice Isn’t Dead.”
On April 2, the 2016 “Ghost Stories” tour premiered in the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. The show starred Cecil Baldwin and included performances by series regulars Dylan Marron, Meg Bashwiner, and Hal Lublin, as well as the two series creators and musical guests Carrie Elkin and her husband Danny Schmidt.
The format of the show closely mirrored that of the podcast with talk segments and a musical interlude breaking up the second and third acts of the story. This will put longtime listeners at ease. However, that does not mean that the show is inaccessible to newcomers. “Ghost Stories” is not too heavily focused on series continuity but still maintains the same funny, heartfelt, and occasionally unsettling tone of current episodes.
Cecil Baldwin gave a strong performance as his character Cecil. His range as an actor shows in the way he can shift with the dramatic moods of the show and still feel organic. Parts of the show read more like poetry than one may expect, and he and the other actors excel at giving both comedic and poignant performances.
“Ghost Stories” centered, perhaps obviously, on ghosts. Each character told a ghost story of some kind, with both hilarious and existentially nightmarish results. The story is framed nicely with show host Cecil telling his own ghost story, which starts out as a cliche horror story and gradually grows more personal. “Ghost Stories” breaks down all of the reasons that people tell ghost stories in a loving manner. Some stories mock conspiracies or shock-horror tales, but ultimately, the show argues that ghost stories come from a visceral, emotional plane both within and outside of the supposed spirit realm. This reflection results in pure poetry that provides auditory delight and emotional catharsis.
Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt, who have both had their songs featured in the podcast, shared their music at the beginning of the show and during a brief interlude commonly referred to in the show as “the Weather.” They played some of their new songs, giving strong performances.
Overall, the show was high quality, but the accommodations could have been improved upon. “The Librarian,” an earlier “Night Vale” live show, included an ASL interpreter while this current show did not. At that time, there were fewer guest roles and it may have been an easier undertaking, but it was disappointing to see that this was not continued. The Orpheum Theatre was not properly organized for the event and this made lines difficult.
“Ghost Stories” is recommended for fans of the supernatural who want to see the emotional aspects considered through strong storytelling and humor. Tickets for the tour can be found at: http://www.welcometonightvale.com/live-events/.